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News 09 Jun 17

Nationalist Threats Shadow Sofia Pride's 10th Anniversary

The tenth Sofia Pride march in support of LGBTI rights is set for Saturday despite a lack of political support and calls for its “cleansing” by ultranationalists, who will also rally in the capital.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Sofia Pride march 2016. Photo: Radostina Georgieva

Various international organisations have called on the Bulgarian authorities to ensure the security of the LGBTI activists who will march in the Tenth Anniversary Sofia Pride on Saturday in the centre of the Bulgarian capital after threats from extreme nationalists.

Rights groups, as well as the pan-European ALDE liberal party, have expressed concern that the Sofia municipality has allowed a rival event organised by the ultranationalist non-formal group National Resistance under the slogan “Let’s clean Sofia of trash” to take place almost at the same time and at the same location.

The nationalist rally has been presented as an initiative for cleaning up the park where the Monument of the Soviet army is located, and where the Pride march will begin on Saturday.

But National Resistance’s leader Blagovest Asenov – a radical linked to the international neo-Nazi organization Blood and Honor – has called on for supporters to join him to “cleanse the plague”, picturing Pride as a “triumph of pathology over normality”.

ALDE’s leader Guy Verhofstadt urged the authorities to prevent any violence.

“I call on the Bulgarian authorities and the Mayor of Sofia to act to safeguard all those planning to participate in the Sofia Pride March scheduled for this weekend. Far-right violence against the LGBTI community has no place in the European Union of 2017,” Verhofstadt said in a statement on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also expressed fears that the counter-demonstration could result in attacks on Sofia Pride.

Over 27,000 people have signed a petition on the All Out platform, calling on Sofia’s mayor Yordanka Fandakova to put measures in place to keep Pride marchers safe, condemn any targeted attacks against the local LGBT community, and join the Pride march herself.

A spokesperson for the Sofia municipality told BIRN that the local authorities “are working on ensuring both the security of both the participants [in Sofia Pride] and all citizens”.

The spokesperson confirmed that the nationalist event will take place in the same park as the one from where the Pride march starts, as its authorisation was requested months ago, but guaranteed that the two events will be separated and will start at different times.

The “Let’s clean Sofia of trash” demonstration starts at 5pm, and Pride at 6pm.

Such tensions are not unprecedented – in 2016, National Resistance held an “anti-gay parade” in parallel with the LGBTI march.

“Ten years on [from the first Sofia Pride), instead of talking about the future of Pride and equal rights, again we are dealing with a group of nationalists who hold thousands of people hostage to hate and violence,” Simeon Vassilev, Director of the LGBTI rights foundation GLAS, told BIRN.

He argued that homophobia is being politically legitimised in Bulgaria since the far-right United Patriots coalition entered the government as a coalition partner of Boyko Borissov’s centre-right party GERB.

Members of VMRO and ATAKA, two of the parties forming the United Patriots coalition, have publicly condemned Sofia Pride as an “assault on traditional Bulgarian values”.

Vassilev explained that the organising committee for the march has sent invitations to 50 Bulgarian institutions to join the rally, but has received no responses.

He added that the good news is that over 20 Bulgarian companies have officially supported the largest LGBTI rights event in Bulgaria, which is also usually backed by a number of foreign embassies.

 

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